100 Wins Doesn’t Buy What It Used To
3:08 PM EDT on October 13, 2023
All playoffs must have a theme, no matter how flimsy—at least until a champion is crowned and everyone involved is promoted to Super Genius (trademark Wile E. Coyote). This postseason has its theme already: Because division winners are dropping like flies, the regular season has been reduced to six months of garbage and the character of baseball is destroyed.
To which we say, "Yeah, and what else do you think happens when you continually expand your playoffs?" And then because putting the boot in feels always better the second time, we add, "Why do you think casuals love the Stanley Cup playoffs even though they never actually watch them?"
The regular season doesn't matter when you're looking to define enduring excellence. This year was just its logical extreme—when 404 regular-season victories (Atlanta, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Tampa Bay) translated into one total victory in October. (These playoffs, though, have largely been exercises in bastardy anyway, in that more games have been promised and fewer have actually been played. So far, out of 32 possible games only 22 have been played and only two of six series have not been sweeps.) The mighty have sucked and the modest have been running the vacuum.
We get the sentiment. One hundred wins used to mean that you had the best team under all circumstances. Since 2016 (omitting 2020, which was just spring training on crank), all but the 2021 World Series champions (88-win Atlanta over 95-win Houston) have won 100 games in the regular season, and the 2021 narrative was cheaters never prosper, which is of course a preposterous lie.
In short, baseball had two levels of excellence, regular season and October, and the Venn diagram of the two had fairly significant acreage in common. But because everything we know is based on the last thing we saw, purists of various ages are condemning of the new playoff format, which is just an intermediate step to the owners' ultimate goal: 162 games that start in Arizona and Florida in lieu of spring training, followed by a play-in tournament and then four rounds of best-of-seven that ends knee-deep in snow on Thanksgiving Day. Best-of-three is condemned as unfair after one-and-done had been condemned as unfair, and soon best-of-five will be declared as anti-American.
Mathematically, of course, the more teams you let into the postseason the greater chance that a less-worthy team will eventually triumph. And let's be honest here, this is probably a one-off anyway because the odds of all four 99-plus-win teams getting chased out like houseflies is prohibitive. This year is just a hilarious outlier that will cause general managers to overreact at the behest of their superiors and change their view of the trade deadline in hopes of prepping a good team for the increasingly different world of October.
No sport has changed itself in the last decade more than baseball, and it will continue to do so in search of a younger generation that is abandoning sports in general as a viewing vehicle because all sports suck when watched on a phone. Increasingly expanded playoffs are just part of the price that must be paid in search of that dollar that can never be obtained. If this helps, think of the new format as a plunging neckline as established most assuredly by those trollops in Philadelphia. This isn't the regular season being diminished, it's just sexing up a game that used to be played in flannel.